The problem of hatred—and how Christians are contributing to it
A Reflection for Saturday of the First Week of Lent
Find today’s readings here.
Jesus said to his disciples:
"You have heard that it was said,
You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.
But I say to you, love your enemies,
and pray for those who persecute you,
that you may be children of your heavenly Father,
for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good,
and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.
For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have?
Do not the tax collectors do the same?
And if you greet your brothers and sisters only,
what is unusual about that?
Do not the pagans do the same?
So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Mt 5:43-48)
This is it.
This is Christianity, to me. If I were asked to make a golden record or time capsule to communicate the distilled essence of this faith, today’s Gospel passage is what I would use.
It can be hard to say anything new about this famous and foundational passage. But even so, I think it’s a message worth repeating now more than ever.
My deepest internal struggles with the Catholic Church and Christianity as a whole have come not from the source material but from the people who practice it, myself included. I look at Christians, today and historically, and think, “Wow, we’re not very Christian.” For a group told explicitly to love their enemies, Christians sure spend a lot of time fighting.
Some of the most marginalized people in modern society experience hate on a daily basis from self-identified followers of Jesus.
I’ve come to understand that the reason for this is not because anybody rejects the idea of loving their enemy. It’s the definition of love, what love entails, that factions cannot seem to agree on. I know that this disagreement is not unique to religion—in friendships, relationships, families, how to love correctly seems to be a fundamental question of the human condition.
But this passage sums up the call to Christians better than anything else. Jesus does not tell his followers to wait until people agree with them to offer support. He does not say to withhold kindness and compassion from an enemy until they change their ways. He says the opposite: that God does not withhold the sun and rain from anyone, and neither should the disciples.
Everyday, I see people who want to withhold their love because of somebody’s sexual preferences or gender identity or creed, and I’m baffled. Some of the most marginalized people in modern society experience hate on a daily basis from self-identified followers of Jesus. I truly struggle to understand how anyone can reconcile their faith with their hatred.
In this passage, there is no ambiguity to Jesus’ message. There are no qualifiers. The message is to love every single person just as God does; doing anything else is being distinctly un-Godlike.
This season of Lent is about evil temptations, and the temptation to hate strikes me as the most insidious one facing our world today. When faced with it, I will try to consider this most fundamental message and double down on love.